Changes to the heritage protection regime are on the way following publication of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill sponsored by the Department of Business. Many of the proposed changes have been in discussion for some years and English Heritage has welcomed the arrival of legislation to deliver improvements to the system.

The bill seeks to fundamentally change the Heritage List for England so that the extent of a building's special interest would be legally defined in its list entry – only these elements would then be protected by law. This alone presents English Heritage with a major undertaking, given that there are 375,000 listed buildings in England.

Conservation area consent will be brought back into the local planning system with a new unified approach that will end the need for a separate conservation area demolition consent. Under the new regime, demolition will only be considered as part of a new application for planning permission and there will be a new offence for failing to obtain permission prior to any demolition work.

To reduce the burden on the planning system, owners of listed buildings will be able to enter into Statutory Management Agreements with local authorities to enable specified works to be undertaken without the need for repeat planning applications.

And to give developers greater protection against unanticipated protection orders, the bill proposes that they will be able to apply for a Certificate of Immunity (COI) from listing or scheduling before they have committed to design work. Under the current system, a COI can only be issued after a planning application has been made. 

RIBA Practice Bulletin No. 647